2012 is turning out to be a breakout year for Houndmouth. In late August, the four-piece band released a self-titled EP on the celebrated British label Rough Trade Records (The Smiths, Warpaint, and Alabama Shakes). Earlier, in May, the indie rock journal Paste Magazine named Houndmouth one of the “10 Kentucky Bands You Should Listen To Now.” The group’s members appreciated the sentiment, even though they actually hail from New Albany, Ind.
Bassist Zak Appleby jokes, “It’s nice to be able to switch back and forth between Kentucky and Indiana. Whatever gets us on a Top 10 list, I guess.”
Drummer Shane Cody, speaking from his Indiana home, which Houndmouth has dubbed the “Green House,” says living so close to Louisville has been a boon because of New Albany’s lack of venues. “There are, like, no venues here, none,” he says.
Fortunately, Houndmouth’s songs justify all the acclaim they are receiving. The music has a vintage quality that brings to mind roots rockers like The Band or Neil Young. In “Penitentiary,” guitarist Matt Myers sounds like he should be on a classic rock station when he sings, “Hit a batch in Frisco, I couldn’t score a job/So, I did the next best thing and I learned how to rob.”
The fact that Houndmouth claims Louisville as its home is a testament to the River City’s status in indie rock circles. Louisville has produced a long line of influential bands, stretching from the Babylon Dance Band in the 1980s to Slint, Rodan, and Squirrel Bait in the ‘90s to contemporary artists like My Morning Jacket, Cheyenne Mize, and Bonnie Prince Billy (Will Oldham).
Former LEO Music Editor Matt Herron, co-owner of
Karate Body Records, says the vitality of the area’s music scene is often overlooked by local residents.
“Houndmouth is just the latest example of something that has been going on in Louisville for a long time,” Herron explains. “People don’t think there is a music industry in Louisville, but we have a strong musical ecosystem. A lot of it is the legacy of ear X-tacy (the music store which closed in October 2011). The mothership is gone but the children are still here.”
To prove his point, Herron cites the area’s numerous recording studios (The Funeral Home, Downtown Recording, and Liquid Sound Studio), record shops (Astro Black Records, Matt Anthony’s Record Shop, and Underground Sounds), venues (Zanzabar, The Mammoth, and Headliners), and music blogs (Backseat Sandbar, Louisville Musiculture, and We Listen For You). Herron, who is the drummer for the band The Fervor, started Karate Body Records with partner Joe Seidt in 2009 in order to spotlight some of the city’s talent. Karate Body has released records by Shipping News, Wax Fang, Phantom Family Halo, and two “Louisville Is For Lovers” compilations. Herron says his label was inspired by past efforts like Slamdek Records, Initial Records, Self Destruct and Noise Pollution.
The 2012 Forecastle Festival, an annual three-day music and arts festival that took place in July, was a great showcase of the area’s talent. It was curated by My Morning Jacket and one of the stages was dedicated almost totally to local artists. The music scenes of Nashville, Tenn., and Austin, Texas, get more publicity, but Herron believes Louisville rivals those cities when it comes to talent.
Antz Wettig, owner of Zanzabar, 2100 S. Preston St., says that he and his brother Jon were inspired to open the Germantown bar, in part, to provide an accessible venue for their friends who play original music. Zanzabar regularly showcases local bands along with national touring acts and deejays.
“I think the Louisville music scene is as cool as anywhere in the country,” Wettig says. “I especially like the bands Seluah and Old Baby. The great thing about the bands here is that they don’t all sound alike. The bands in this town are really eclectic.”
Promoter Jamason Welker feels that local talent sometimes gets overlooked by local music fans because the Internet has given people access to so much music that it’s hard to get attention. At his shows, Welker sometimes asks unfamiliar bands to throw in a few covers to make the set more comfortable to the uninitiated. He says technology has benefited unsigned bands in a lot of ways, but it has weakened the sense of community locally.
“The Internet has opened 40,000 doors, but fans don’t always know which one to go through,” Welker says. “Every band has a web page, but there is no one to curate, and point people to the music they’d be passionate about. I used to go see bands just because I’d never heard of them. It’s not that way anymore.”
Houndmouth is a perfect example of the pros and cons of technology. Until recently, the band members admit, they were unfamiliar with many of the seminal groups from Louisville’s indie rock heyday. This is partly because, despite a handful of well received live shows at Zanzabar and Headliners Music Hall, Houndmouth is an Internet phenomenon.
The group started in July 2011 after Cody returned to New Albany from New York City. He was playing in a bluegrass outfit when Myers, an old friend, started coming over to the Green House for acoustic jam sessions. Myers noticed Cody had drums and suggested they start a band. Two other friends, Appleby and keyboardist Katie Toupin, were recruited to fill out the lineup.
Houndmouth started out with some acoustic songs that each member had written individually. While they were changing them to fit an electric setting, Cody used the digital audio program Pro-Tools to record the efforts. That’s how the band got its name.
“We had to record at night because of cars driving past the windows, and we’re right next to a firehouse,” Myers explains. “These dogs across the street were our only noise coming through. One night, we had a guitar take that I thought was a really good take. I said, ‘We’re going to use that.’ Shane said, ‘No we’re not, there is too much Houndmouth on this track.’”
Houndmouth started uploading its songs to Facebook and to the music website Soundcloud. After a few months, they started attracting attention. In March, Houndmouth was chosen to play at Austin, Texas’ prestigious South By Southwest Festival. After that, the band was picked up by a major label. “I think Rough Trade heard us first online, but then they met us down at South By Southwest and kind of followed up with us when we got back,” says Myers.
Houndmouth has already recorded a follow-up. It’s debut album will feature three of the four songs that are on the EP. Rather than return to the Green House, they came to Louisville to work with producer Kevin Ratterman at his studio on Market Street. Ratterman, former drummer of Elliot and Wax Fang, named the studio The Funeral Home because it was over his family’s funeral business. He’s since moved to a new space on Lexington Road which he calls La La Land. Ratterman says his investment in the new studio is a sign of confidence in the local music scene.
“I want this to be a destination studio for local artists,” Ratterman says. “I try to keep my prices affordable because I want to appeal to the small bands that make weird music. That has a lot to do with the awesome elders that set up the independent music scene before me.”
Ratterman had not heard of Houndmouth when they contacted him about recording, but since then he’s become good friends with the band. The members helped him lay down the wooden floor in his new studio. In return, Ratterman is educating them on bands like Slint and Rodan.
“So many people that have been influential in American music have come out of Louisville,” Ratterman says. “I think it grew out of this weird crux of not being a Northern or a Southern city. This city is kind of unique and I hope it stays that way.”